Cornelia Gamlem On How We Need To Adjust To The Future Of Work
An increase in corporate social responsibility. The death of George Floyd ushered in a new era of social responsibility. Companies began making financial commitments to strengthen economic opportunities in communities of color.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Cornelia Gamlem.
A passion for helping organizations develop and maintain respectful workplaces is the reason why Cornelia left an HR leadership role with a Fortune 500 IT services company to start her consulting practice. That led her on a journey to becoming a speaker and author. She and her coauthor have written five books together, and they are celebrating the 10 year anniversary edition of their first book, The Big Book of HR. You can learn more from their website, www.bigbookofhr.com.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
I was recently reminded of the family of my best childhood friend, a large and loving family, which was much different from my smaller, still loving family. In my friend’s hectic home, I recognized that each of her siblings was different and unique. To this day, I don’t make assumptions about people because they are a member of a group or community, but rather recognize and appreciate their individual uniqueness and diversity.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
Change was happening at a fast pace before 2020. When the pandemic struck the pace of change grew exponentially and is not likely to slow down. Employees will continue to drive the success of organizations and expect a more participative role in how the work is accomplished. Hybrid workplaces are here to stay.
What will change is the skills people will need to keep up with ever-changing technology. The workplace and working will become much more fluid as leaders and managers adjust to flexible practices. One of the biggest differences I predict is more workers wanting to abandon the traditional employer-employee relationship in exchange for gig work.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Technology will continue to influence the way work is performed in organizations across all industries and new jobs will emerge. Skills assessment — the skills needed to keep up with changing technology and the skills the current workforce possesses — will need constant reassessment. Training and retraining will be ongoing.
Staying abreast of new trends and developments will enable leaders to be proactive. A key competency for all leaders will be workforce planning, and organizations would be wise to integrate this ability into their leadership development programs.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
Once executives in organizations get past the current tussle of where people work — at home, remotely, in the office — the realization will set in that the gaps are not as great as imagined. Today’s workforce brings an expectation of being more participative and having more of a voice in decision-making.
The most important thing today’s employees want is career development and growth, something that benefits both the employee and the employer. Give people the opportunity to do something different in your organization. Retrain them to fill employment gaps that occur because of resignations or newly emerging jobs.
Reconciling the differences between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect is simple. Listen to employees. Conduct surveys or simply ask them rather than making plans or designing post-Pandemic policies without getting their input. This will go a long way to creating trust and sending the message that employees are appreciated and valued.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Managers will have to manage differently, placing a greater emphasis on managing people and communication skills, especially listening. When staff is not in the office every day, managers must be proactive by staying in touch and checking in with staff working remotely to understand how they are doing and how their work is progressing.
There is also the danger of creating tension between employees who work in the office and those that work from home or remotely. Managers have to be diligent about not giving, or creating the perception of giving, preferential treatment to workers in the office, giving them better assignments, for example.
Finally, while 2020 saw people settling into home offices — makeshift or otherwise — not everyone’s home is optimally suited for working. Urban dwellers often live in small apartments. Some workers have shared living arrangements with others — family or non-family members — often in cramped quarters. So, many of these workers may opt to come back into the office, at least on a part-time basis.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
The pandemic placed a spotlight on many challenges we are facing in society and our organizations — challenges that leaders will be addressing well into the future. Women left the workforce or reduced their hours because of a lack of access to childcare.
Childcare insecurity directly relates to income instability, another change that needs to be addressed. As record numbers of people applied for unemployment benefits, many states lacked unemployment assistance programs for self-employed workers until Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act which provided only temporary relief.
Another societal dilemma is the lack of paid sick and family leave that forced workers to choose between a paycheck, job security, and health issues. Slowly states are addressing the issue, but it needs more attention on the national stage. The United States is an outlier among developed countries for its lack of paid sick leave for workers.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
The younger generations who are currently in the workplace, or about to enter it, are going to make positive strides in changing the future of work. Their strong expectations, if met, will bring positive influences and outcomes. Recognition of who they are — their individual diversity — will not only lead to greater recognition of groups that have been underrepresented, but also greater recognition of diversity of thought leading to creativity and new ideas.
They also expect to have more of a say in how, when, and where the work gets done. I applaud them because they see the value of productivity and want to make the best contributions possible without being constrained by artificial boundaries. For example, if they do their best work during the hours of 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., they don’t want to waste that time commuting to an office.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
Beyond offering employees access to Employee Assistance Programs, employers are finding creative ways of encouraging employees to lead healthy lifestyles. They are making virtual wellness apps available, app that offer meditation and relaxation programs, mindfulness classes and yoga, and access to mental health coaching.
Financial stress contributes to overall stress, and employees’ financial health is receiving attention. Employers are providing financial wellness programs offering planning tools to help employees with their overall financial picture and debt management as well as student loan repayment programs.
Proactive approaches are being incorporated into everyday working environments that include setting expectations and practices such as not answering emails during evenings and weekends, except for emergencies, or having Zoom-free or no meeting days. Most importantly, organizations are encouraging all employees to use their paid time off.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
Leaders, think of how you can turn The Great Resignation into The Great Retention. You do this by creating a positive employee experience. Take steps to make sure your employees are engaged. Be transparent and maintain a positive work environment where employees feel valued and appreciated. Review your rewards and recognition programs frequently. There are so many cost-effective ways to recognize employees, the most powerful — a simple thank you — costs nothing. Putting energy into employee retention will positively impact productivity and reduce turnover.
It’s not as much about organizational cultures evolving as it is about living your values, because that’s where cultures live — in your values. Organizations must hold firm to their values and create an ethical environment where people, especially the leadership, do what they commit to do and exemplify good behavior. Treat everyone — employees, customers, stakeholders — with dignity and respect.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
Trend 1. The increase in the gig economy. After the events of the 2020 pandemic, it’s time for a new social contract about working in the 21st century. We need to shift from a purely employer-employee relationship to a worker-payor relationship.
According to a study published in February 2020, by ADP Research Institute, the share of gig workers grew 15 percent since 2010, and that just included 1099-MISC contractors and short-term W-2 employees. Add freelance workers, artisans, and app-based service workers such as Uber or Lyft drivers, and the number of workers in nontraditional employment arrangements grows. As workers desire more flexibility and control over their lives and careers including their income, and as organizations rely more on these workers, especially for specialized or one-off projects, the trend is likely to increase.
Trend 2. New forms of employee activism. Union organizing campaigns have become more prevalent since the 2020 pandemic, such as the organizing campaign by Amazon workers in its Bessemer, AL warehouse. Beyond traditional union activity, platforms such as Zoom or CoWorker.org allow the expansion of employee activism. On Coworker.org, for example, employees can conduct crowdsource campaigns to pressure organizations to treat workers better in terms of pay, safety, and benefits.
Trend 3. An increase in corporate social responsibility. The death of George Floyd ushered in a new era of social responsibility. Companies began making financial commitments to strengthen economic opportunities in communities of color.
Edward Jones made a 1 million dollars donation to the national Urban League, while Bank of America committed 1 billion dollars. PayPal committed 530 million dollars to support black- and minority-owned businesses, while Netflix started putting 2% of its cash holdings into financial institutions and organizations to support Black communities in the country. These actions demonstrate how organizations are expanding their efforts by embracing social accountability while at the same time strengthening their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
Trend 4. An expansion of employee rights. The Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia decision from the Supreme Court in June, 2020, affirmed that discrimination on the basis of sex applies to an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This ushered in a renewed focus on LGBTQ rights.
There are many states that allow individuals to designate a non-binary gender marker on government documents such as driver’s licenses and requiring employers to recognize a non-binary preferred marker. While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has yet to make changes in their reporting requirements, employers may choose to report non-binary genders in the comment box on the Certification Page in the EEO-1 Report, allowing employers to account for non-binary employees.
Trend 5. The work we value is changing. Jobs that were considered “essential” during the pandemic continue to receive a great deal of attention. How do we, as a society, value certain jobs, and more importantly, how do we compensate them? As we examine staffing, safety and income security issues of certain jobs or categories of jobs, this topic will continue to receive attention and consideration.
Healthcare workers, especially those in hospitals, were deemed essential. Two years later, reports of burnout among these workers and critical shortages continue. Contract nurses have been brought into hospitals in certain geographic areas as Covid cases spiked, resulting in pay disparities — contract nurses receiving considerably higher wages than the hospital employees.
Grocery workers were also considered essential during the pandemic — workers who needed to report to a physical workplace. In 2022 in Colorado, workers struck against a Denver-area supermarket which is part of the nation’s largest traditional grocery store chain, and a strike was averted in New Mexico against the same national chain as workers sought higher pay, better benefits and stricter safety and security measures.
Teachers were thrust into online learning during the pandemic. As they navigated the virtual schoolroom in 2020, there were constant pleas to return students to the classrooms, despite health risks. States saw teachers joining The Great Resignation, resulting in shortages. The omicron variant surge in 2021–22 brought shortages of substitute teachers resulting in some states, such as New Mexico, bringing in members of the National Guard to fill that gap.
In a recent op-ed in The Washington Post, the superintendent of Boston Public Schools, Brenda Cassellius, called for a national minimum starting salary for teachers of 75,000 dollars.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
A quote I saw recently was by the late Mary Tyler Moore. “Take chances. Make mistakes. That’s how you grow.”
It reminded me of two things. The first was advice I received when I started my consulting practice: “Try new things and if one thing doesn’t work, try something else.” I followed that advice and had lots of success.
The second thing is the importance of continuous learning. Whether it’s learning about something new to satiate your curiosity or to try something outside your comfort zone — like building a website — you’ve got to learn how to do it. If you fail, try another approach.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
I’d love to sit down with Ari Melber, host of MSNBC’s The Beat. Ari is an excellent and engaging interviewer and a serious journalist. He has a deep understanding of the issues he’s presenting and discussing, and he respects the integrity of those issues. He is thoughtful and balanced, always sticking to the facts and does not present opinions or theories as fact.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
A link to my website is included in my bio and I invite readers to visit it. There they will find my social links — LinkedIn is a great way to connect — a contact form, blog, and information about me, my coauthor and all of our books.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.